One calendar year ago, the Miami Redhawks’ basketball team was sitting at 10-11 and preparing for the final month of the season before the MAC tournament. Their point guard, a four-year starter, was putting the finishing touches on a stellar collegiate career.
As the final buzzer went off on Quinten Rollins’ basketball days, he had clearly left a positive mark on the program. Rollins’ imprint on the Miami record books is significant; ranking second in career steals (214), fourth in assists (391), seventh in games started (106), and ninth in minutes played (3,448).
After the basketball season, Rollins toyed with the idea of playing football for his final year of eligibility. In an interview with Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Rollins decided playing football could help clarify his future.
…my senior year came around and I sat down with Coach (Chuck) Martin and we saw eye to eye. I gave spring ball a shot and it worked out pretty well. It was basically a tryout kind of deal whether or not he was going to give me a scholarship. And fortunately I was able to make enough plays for that to happen.
The last time Rollins had played football, he was primarily a running back and receiver. His experience on defense was as a roaming playmaker, or essentially a strong safety in the mold of Troy Polamalu.
Fast forward back to present day, and it’s almost unbelievable Rollins only played one season on the college gridiron. His one and only campaign resulted in 73 tackles, seven interceptions and nine pass breakups. The seven interceptions were tied for third nationally.
The NFL took notice of Rollins’ abilities and invited him to the 2015 Reese’s Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl is a great test for small-school prospects that don’t usually get to play elite talent on a weekly basis, as every snap in practice is dissected. Almost unsurprisingly after seeing how far Rollins has progressed thus far, the cornerback held his own all week and showed the hype is warranted.
To get a better feel for what Rollins brings to the table, I went and looked at seven of his games in 2014 and wrote a scouting report based on his strengths and weaknesses. With some visual aids, let’s take a look at the dual-sport phenom’s football acumen.
When evaluating Rollins, the first thing that has to be mentioned is his frame. The NFL is filled with cornerbacks of all sizes, but some teams tend to avoid smaller cornerbacks. Rollins shouldn’t have that issue, as he measured 5’11”, 193 pounds at the Senior Bowl.
On the field, Rollins plays bigger than he is listed. He has a thick build that allows him be a physical presence in the secondary. Just to the naked eye, he looks like a dribble-drive point guard, and a bulldog-type cornerback. His frame fits his game.
His willingness to be physical with his body is one of the most impressive areas of his game. To be a strong run defender on the boundary, being effective is mostly about effort and functional strength. Some cornerbacks don’t care about this aspect of the game because effective coverage is a bigger part of their job description.
Rollins doesn’t take that liberty, though. Of the seven games I saw, he missed only two tackles he had a reasonable chance at getting. His form is nearly flawless, as he approaches the ball carrier low to the ground so that he can explode forward and deliver a blow.
He’s relentless fighting through blockers as well. Rollins is a pest for receivers that don’t want to put much effort into blocks, as he takes it very seriously. Below is a good example.
Looking at Rollins’ coverage talent, it’s clear he’s a natural playmaker. His seven interceptions were far from flukes, coming scattered throughout the season in different situations. He didn’t waste time to show his ability to read plays and stay in position, either, as he logged four interceptions in the first four games of his career.
Throughout football, collegiate and professionally, many cornerbacks have a bad habit of playing the receiver more than the ball. It’s maddening, as the ball belongs to the cornerback as much as the receiver. This results in many pass interference calls and blown opportunities for a turnover.
That’s why Rollins’ natural instinct to locate and play the ball is invaluable. A turnover is a premium result of a play for the defense and can be one of the few differences between a win and a loss. Make no mistake; it’s hard to find a defensive back that sniffs out the route as early as Rollins did.
Athletically, Rollins has the ability to stick at cornerback long term. His ability to line up directly over the receiver, mirror movements off the snap, and then turn and run downfield is crucial. Every defense in the league plays a variety of man and zone coverages to some extent, so that versatility is a major plus. Rollins has enough fluidity in his hips to smother comebacks, or go deep on post routes.
In zone, Rollins is a star. Zone coverage allows the cornerback to open his hips early and just read the quarterback and receiver. If the receiver gets into his assigned area, the cornerback acts. Rollins’ anticipation and play recognition are excellent, regardless of his inexperience.
Although Rollins measures and weighs well, his arm length is a bit of a concern. The premium placed on height can an overrated part of the puzzle for projection, but length isn’t. There’s a reason why the Seattle Seahawks prefer players with certain arm measurements; players with length help limit explosive plays.
Rollins’ arm length measurement of 29 3/8” could be an issue. He struggles in press coverage at times, which isn’t surprising because he is underdeveloped with technique and lacks experience. But without length, the receiver can get upfield without being touched easier. Take a look below, where Rollins loses on a slant route because he cannot recover from his length limiting him.
Overcoming this may not be a big issue as Rollins improves and gets more snaps to practice, but it narrows the margin for error greatly. Arm length can also help in jump ball situations against taller receivers and when breaking toward the ball to make a pass breakup.
Breaking down is where Rollins has the most issues; it is with deep routes. For the most part, he smothers underneath routes with impressive efficiency. His ability to trigger from his backpedal and explode forward is certainly above average.
But when going deep, either Rollins lacks straight-line speed, or he’s struggling with his footwork early in his coverage and doesn’t have necessary makeup speed. It’s hard to tell from his film because he wasn’t getting burned every game.
In the screenshot above, we see the receiver’s lead shoulder is well ahead of Rollins’, and Rollins is in a compromising position at this point. The quarterback notices his slot receiver has the leverage and targets him for a completion. By the time the ball arrives, Rollins is well behind the receiver.
At the Senior Bowl, Rollins didn’t appear to be lacking deep speed. It’s difficult to tell from television broadcast angles where Rollins is losing on deep routes, but if it turns out he is speed deficient, a move to safety is possible. For what it is worth, I think his footwork is the bigger issue than straight-line speed, or else he would be targeted deep on every play, and that isn’t the case.
Rollins should improve his technique as he receives more coaching in the NFL. His biggest issues just come from lacking experience, such as where to place hands when jamming, or when to be physical with the receiver downfield. Footwork wise, he needs to keep his lower and upper body aligned so he stays balanced, but this wasn’t a constant issue.
The NFL is desperate for good cornerbacks and safeties. Even if a team has two good starters, injuries can ravage the position quickly, and in today’s NFL, that can spell doom to a defense. There is a premium on all defensive backs that are physical with good ball skills.
That’s a large reason why Quinten Rollins has skyrocketed in the 2015 NFL draft process. He currently ranks as the third-best cornerback and 31st-overall prospect in the class by CBS Sports. Again, one year ago, he wasn’t even committed to playing football for the Redhawks.
Everything considered, Rollins is a project at cornerback, but his innate ability to locate and play the football is special. He can become a very good and reliable starting defensive back if he’s given time to refine some of the smaller details that separate the good from being even better.
If his first year at the position is any indicator of how much he can improve, there’s no reason to think he won’t maximize his potential.
All stats used are from sports-reference.com.
Ian Wharton is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting, and analyst for eDraft.
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